Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The Black Mountain Cliffs loop — from the parking lot to the mountain’s west peak, down to Schoodic Beach, and back to the parking lot — is about 3 miles long. But to get the best views, you will need to hike off that loop about 1 mile to the mountain’s east peak, then backtrack to get back to the loop. In total, that will make for a 5-mile hike. The trail includes plenty of rocky spots and exposed tree roots, requiring hikers to watch their step, but the trail does not require hand-over-foot technical hiking. There are no ladders or metal rungs.
How to get there: The trailhead for the Black Mountain Cliffs Trail is at the Schoodic Beach Parking Lot in the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land unit. To get there from Route 1 in Sullivan, turn onto Route 183 (across from the Town Landing Road) and drive 4.3 miles and turn left onto the gravel Schoodic Beach Road. Drive 0.3 mile and veer left at the fork to stay on Schoodic Beach Road. Drive 1.9 mile to the Schoodic Beach Parking Lot at the end of the road. Start your hike at the far end of the parking area, past the kiosk, on the wide, smooth trail that leads to Schoodic Beach. A short distance down the trail, you’ll cross a bridge and see the Black Mountain Cliffs Trail on your right, marked with blue blazes. Take that trail to start the loop hike. (See map.)
Information: Black Mountain, with an elevation of 1,049 feet above sea level, rises between two scenic bodies of water — Donnell Pond and Tunk Lake — in eastern Maine. The mountain is located within the state-owned Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land unit, and is home to a number of public hiking trails. From its bald east peak, hikers can enjoy a 360-degree view of the region.
There are two options for hiking the mountain:
The first option is the 1.6-mile Big Chief Trail. Leaving from a parking area at the end of Black Mountain Road, this trail leads up a southeast slope of the mountain to the mountain’s east peak.
The second option, the Black Mountain Cliffs Trail, is located on the west side of the mountain and forms a 3-mile loop with the Schoodic Beach Trail. The loop visits the mountain’s west peak, which has very limited views, as well as Schoodic Beach.
You can lengthen this hike and reach an open view by taking the Black Mountain Summit Trail from the mountain’s west peak to its bald east peak. This side trip is about 1 mile long (2 miles out and back), making for a hike that is about 5 miles total.
For this blog post, I’m going to describe the second option in greater detail.
Black Mountain Cliffs Trail starts at an intersection with Schoodic Beach Trail, less than 0.1 mile from the Schoodic Beach Parking Lot. At first, the trail climbs steeply through a hardwood forest, then levels out and crosses two old woods roads. The trail then starts to climb again, becoming increasingly rocky and switchbacking up a few modest cliffs before leveling off again and striking through a couple tranquil, grass- and fern-filled clearings.
Near the mountain’s west peak, the trail comes to a trail intersection where you can turn left to continue the 3-mile loop and descend the mountain to Schoodic Beach Trail near Schoodic Beach. Or you can veer right onto Black Mountain Summit Trail and follow the signs for about 1 mile to the mountain’s east peak, which is bald and provides amazing views of the region.
If you decide to take this lengthy side trip to the east peak, don’t be thrown off when the trail starts to descend rather steeply. Looking at the map, you’ll see that the trail dips down, then climbs back up again to reach the rocky east peak of the mountain. Along the way, you’ll pass a trail leading north to Caribou Mountain, which is another good hike in the area.
Back at the Black Mountain Cliffs loop, when you descend the mountain, follow signs pointing to Schoodic Beach. Eventually, you will cross a few bridges and the trail will end at Schoodic Beach Trail. There, you should turn right to walk to Schoodic Beach, which is a long, sandy beach located on Donnell Pond. Set back into the woods near the beach are several tent sites and outhouses. Campsites are first-come, first-serve, and campers can stay a limit of 14 days in any 45-day period.
From there, you simply follow the easy, 0.5-mile Schoodic Beach Trail back to the parking area. This trail travels uphill steadily from the beach to the parking area but is easy enough for young children.
The trails described above are just a few of the many public hiking trails located within the Donnell Pond Unit, which includes more than 14,000 acres of remote forestland with several ponds, lakes and mountains. Located in Hancock County, between Franklin and Cherryfield, this state-owned property is a popular place for people to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including paddling, hiking, fishing and camping.
All trails are marked with blue blazes painted on trees, as well as cairns where trees are scarce, and trail intersections are marked with signs. However, the network of trails can be confusing at times. Carry a trail map and a compass, and when in doubt, follow the freshest blue blazes.
Dogs are permitted on the trails and on the beach, though they must be kept on a 4-foot-leash at all times at the campsites.
Hunting is permitted, though special rules apply. For example, hunters are prohibited from discharging weapons within 300 feet of a picnic area, camping area, parking area, posted hiking trail or other developed area. And loaded firearms are not permitted at campsites or on hiking trails.
For campers, fires are permitted at authorized campsites or at a permit site with a permit from the Maine Forest Service. But keep in mind that it is against the rules to cut live vegetation or use chainsaws, generators or other power equipment at campsites.
The land is open to the public year round, but many roads may not be plowed in the winter. And as always, pick up after yourself (and your pets) and carry out all trash.
For information and a trail map, call 941-4412 or visit maine.gov/donnellpond.
Personal note: I almost didn’t make it out of the parking lot on July 1, in my attempt to hike Black Mountain Cliffs Trail. I couldn’t find the trailhead.
According to the trail map, the trail started on the east side of the parking lot. But it didn’t. I found what I thought might be a trail, but it wasn’t marked with blazes (as most trails are). Nevertheless, I followed the footpath up a steep hill and watched it quickly disappear.
Returning to the crowded parking lot in frustration, I inspected the trail map posted on the kiosk. Nearby, a beagle on a leash howled at my dog, Oreo, who started to bark back and yank on his leash. A deer fly circled my head; the sun beat down; the temperature rose above 80 degrees F; and my clothes started to stick to my sweaty skin.
That day, Oreo and I hiked the entire 3-mile loop, and in addition, we hiked over to the mountain’s east peak, adding about 2 miles to the hike. The views from the east peak, even on that particularly hazy afternoon, were well worth the extra miles. And though Oreo and I passed a few people on the trail, we had the peak to ourselves. Sitting on the rough granite, we shared a pack of Smith’s Log Smokehouse beef jerky, made in Monroe, Maine. We then headed back to the west side of the mountain and descended to Schoodic Beach, where Oreo went swimming and attempted to drink Donnell Pond dry.
It was a great day hike, but I advise anyone attempting to explore Black Mountain or the nearby Caribou Mountain bring a trail map. (I referred to my trail map several times.) And always follow the blue blazes.